Music City Magic at Nashville Food and Wine Festival


Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon        or not at all.  

-Harriet Van Horne


Music and food have always possessed the remarkable ability to take us back to a certain time or place. A single line of a love song from our youth can give us a rush of emotions. In much the same way, the smell of cornbread baking in your grandmother’s cast iron skillet can bring a wave of nostalgia so strong you’d swear it’s almost a religious experience.

So it is no surprise that two days of incredible music and food held in the beautiful city of Nashville, TN, made for a very cool weekend. Add the fact that the founders of the Music City Food and Wine Festival, the southern rock band Kings of Leon and world-renowned chef Jonathan Waxman, brought together not only the best chefs in the Southern culinary scene right now but also a superstar lineup of musicians who paid homage to country music’s classics at the Harvest Night celebration. The harmony of the two sent foodies and music lovers like myself over the top.

The two-day festival was held in Nashville, the city that has historically gained its reputation by being the Mecca of country music.  But what really makes Nashville the perfect backdrop for this festival is the reinvention of the city’s culinary scene. The city was featured by Food & Wine magazine recently for its “booming Music City food scene,” and is attracting a breed of young chefs who are breathing life into a tired food scene.  Their energy compliments the established chefs who are preserving their deep-rooted culinary heritage while embracing new culinary trends.

The mutual admiration between the culinary and music worlds was evident over the course of the festival. Panels of chefs shared their love of music and the role it plays in their creativity. The musicians returned the love by showing their support for the culinary arts.  You can get the impressive line-up of chefs and musicians at MCFW 2014 here.

The passion of which Van Horne spoke in the quote above was apparent in the work of the artists on display this past weekend. They all approach their respective crafts “with abandon” and are committed to preserving and improving these art forms so that we all can continue to be moved by their magic for years to come.







Chef Tyler Florence



Chef Tim Love from Texas teams up with Kings of Leon drummer, Nathan Followill, to talk about the art of burning food.



Sweet potato hummus with pecan sage pesto

Andy Ticer manning the birds.

Chef Andy Ticer manning the birds.

Always creative and fun ideas pouring at the Tito's table.

Always creative and fun ideas pouring at the Tito’s table.



Hunter Hayes owning the stage.




Caleb and crew saying good night.


Photos by Evelyn Savage

Feeding My Soul


In an earlier post, I professed my undying devotion to my favorite Southern grown comfort food: peas.  Luckily for me, one of my friends (one who has forever solidified her ranking on that list) managed to make her way to New England with a cooler full of freshly shelled field peas.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  There were zipper peas, lady peas, purple hull peas. I began the process of freezing these gorgeous little gems right away.  I was sure summer would pass without my feeling the sensation of cool peas running through my fingers.


But one bushel of peas and 25 freezer bags later, I was set for the winter. I can cure my cravings for a pot of gorgeous, earthy green peas any time I want!

And to celebrate my gift and properly thank my friend,  I decided to make a southern-inspired meal fitting of these emerald legumes. I went straight to the godfather of southern food, Frank Stitt, and his Bottega Favorita cookbook for inspiration and came across his version of slow-cooked short ribs with gremolata and green olives.

That was a no-brainer.

The rich, tender beef braised in red wine and herbs paired perfectly with the peas and creamed potatoes.



And for desert, I threw peaches into my go-to blackberry cobbler recipe from the Blackberry Farms cookbook.  If you haven’t tried it the recipe,  then you haven’t had the thrill of experiencing how the fresh lime zest melds with the peaches and berries.  And the buttermilk dough dropped on top is just heaven.



It was a long day in the kitchen. But as dusk set and the sound of crickets floated through the screen doors,  my family sat down to enjoy this fresh feast of southern food.

I was so grateful.  I was grateful for the chance to do what I love…to be able to cook dishes from summers of my youth. Grateful for family to share them with, and grateful for friends who travelled a long way with big coolers to make it possible.  I was not only able to eat a meal that tasted this divine, I was also able to feed my soul.

Highlands Bar & Grill

Every blue moon I’ll have a random night that just goes perfectly. All is content, the moment is chill, life is happy…such nights usually involve food and friends. They’re impossible to plan and difficult to recreate.

But Highlands Bar & Grill (Birmingham, AL) has a magical ability to create them every time I eat there. Between the great servers, local ingredients, and french-chic Southern atmosphere (yes, that’s possible), I understand why it packs out each night.

Last year I moved from Birmingham to New York, and my last night in the ‘Ham was one that just went well. A close friend treated me to my last meal, and though I told him pizza was fine he read my mind and drove to Highlands. Stitt’s magic went to work and the evening was a great celebration of friendship, food, and life in a city that had become home for me.

I’m sure the libations helped fuel the good times, but fellowship and food made it a great evening. Through several courses, we enjoyed some of Stitt’s best dishes. The oven-baked grits won the evening, though. They always do, and always will. Hands down.

It is genuinely worth the trip, flight and all, just to savor these grits. (Go ahead, book your flight here and make reservations here.)

Several months have passed since I left Birmingham for the Big Apple, and I only miss three places. Highlands is one of them, and while the friends made each night special, you can’t gather around the table unless there’s good food on it — Stitt and his staff always exceed expectations there.

If you can’t make it to Birmingham to experience Highlands firsthand, you can cook up some of Stitt’s Southern magic in your own kitchen.

Another good friend gave me Southern Table for my birthday (I have great friends) and I’ve cooked recipes from both from books. While you might have to plan ahead to have all the ingredients, the recipes are easy to follow for anyone who knows their way around a kitchen. The photos are great, too.

I obviously recommend making the oven-baked grits, and the pizza recipe makes a great Italian crust. Order Southern Table here and Bottega Favorita here.

Garden & Gun Dinner

Though a rare occurrence, I always get excited when my two worlds collide.  Those two worlds being the South, where I grew up, and the Northeast where I’ve lived the past five years. Typically these regions challenge the notion of “one nation…indivisible”, but when the influential last word on all things Southern and New York City come together, great things happen.

I found myself last night in a perfect cross section of these two worlds.  Bunny Williams hosted a Garden & Gun Club dinner in her shop, Treillage, on the Upper East side.

Not only were the hosts Southern, a lot of the guests were too.  For this transplanted Southerner, it was pure heaven.  Being in Bunny William’s chic but cozy world which I had so often admired was such a thrill. Mix that with the rustic, deep south décor and you get an appropriately elegant dinner setting. In keeping with her impeccable, perfectly appropriate style, dinner was a showcase of Lowcountry cuisine with shrimp and grits, short ribs and rum cake.

I was particularly lucky to have Rebecca Darwin, President of Garden & Gun magazine, as my table mate. What a lovely person who has a great story to share of how the magazine, a quickly growing Southern staple, came to be.  On my other side was Rebecca’s childhood friend, Liz O’Connor who shared an equally great story of how Rebecca came to be.  And to complete the night, a colorful toast was raised by my favorite person in the world and regular Garden & Gun contributor, Julia Reed.

Thanks Garden & Gun for inviting me to dinner and giving me a big “hug” from home.